LAKESIDE – Kevin White is quiet and methodical these days, prone to empty gazes and carefully selected words. He has shrapnel in his lungs, trauma in his brain and nearly 20 medications in his system, and he finds it difficult to keep pace with life’s daily proceedings. He is 29 years old and on this winter day all he wants is a home to call his own.
In April 2007, on his second tour as a U.S. Army sergeant in the Iraq War, White had his right shoulder ripped open and suffered other injuries after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. His relatively intact physical appearance belies the severity of his injuries, which are mostly and deeply internal. He has received a 100 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Today White lives with his wife Juliane and 13-month-old son Liam at the home of Juliane’s parents up a steep gravel road near Lakeside. But out the front window, and just a short ways down that steep gravel road, he can see his own home taking shape. The foundation, walls and roof are in place, and crews are working diligently to fill in the rest.
But White’s parents in law, O.T. and Ann Green, say the family is still well short of finishing the house and they have set up a fund at Flathead Bank in Lakeside to accept donations. The Greens took out a second mortgage on their own home to help pay for the house, which they are otherwise funding through their fixed incomes and community generosity, in the absence of government assistance.
The Greens say they may be able to secure a loan from the VA to help offset the costs, but only once the house is complete. And, in the three frustrating years it took the VA to give White his 100 percent disability rating, they said the young couple fell into a financial hole. Juliane, 26, has a heart condition and has been traveling to Spokane to undergo operations.
“They didn’t have any income,” Ann Green said. “My contention was that if the government didn’t care, we were going to prove that Montanans do. Lord knows how many people this has happened to.”
Thus far, the Greens have proven that Montanans do care. The home, which is being built on the Greens’ property, has come as far as it has thanks to the donations, discounts and overall support of family, friends and community members.
The Greens said Plum Creek Timber Company donated all the plywood for the house, while Stoltze Land and Lumber Company provided lumber. Northwest Pipe Fittings pitched in plumbing fixtures, DJ McPhee Construction is offering labor at a reduced cost and a number of other businesses have contributed in various ways, including Sliters Ace Lumber and Building Supply selling discounted materials. Glacier Bank “was very helpful” in agreeing to the second mortgage, O.T. Green said.
When White returned from Iraq and was living with Juliane in Bozeman, the couple’s already difficult times were exacerbated by Juliane’s heart problems. Between the two of them, working has been out of the question.
“Kevin is good with computers,” O.T. Green said. “Maybe when he recovers he’ll be able to do that.”
Given these circumstances, the Whites felt it was best to move from Bozeman in with Juliane’s parents. But the Greens have known all along that a different arrangement is necessary for the young family.
“We thought we’d try to build a home for them so they would have a place they can call their own home,” Ann Green said.
O.T. Green understands White’s plight, as he is also a disabled veteran from the Vietnam War. Now retired after spending various careers in the Army and Navy, Green is happy to share his property with Juliane and Kevin.
“We told them we don’t have any money but we have plenty of dirt,” he said.
In addition to the contributions from businesses, the Greens said many other people have pitched in small donations, perhaps $5 or $10. Ann Green said she reached out to “everybody I could think of” in the search for financial assistance, including politicians and celebrities.
“I even talked Sarah Palin out of $5,” she said.
O.T. Green said he was surprised to find out that, despite White’s 100 percent disability rating, many veteran organizations are reluctant to help out “unless you’re missing an arm or a leg or something like that.” But for all the letters and phone calls that didn’t receive favorable responses, there were so many others that did, and both the Greens and Whites are grateful.
And Juliane knows how far her family has come since those earliest days immediately following her husband’s return from war, when Bozeman seemed a little lonely and a little too far from home.
“We couldn’t have made it without them,” Juliane said.
Donations can be made to the “Kevin Housing Fund” at Flathead Bank, P.O. Box 769, Lakeside, MT 59922. For more information, call the Greens at (406) 857-3488.
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